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domingo, 8 de marzo de 2009

Bill gives hope to Puerto Rico proponents

Image and video hosting by TinyPic The Hill Jordy Yager As residents of Washington D.C. anxiously await the fate of their representational seat in the House, several lawmakers see it as fuel for Puerto Rico gaining a more instrumental voice on Capitol Hill. “The D.C. Voting Rights bill sends the right message to all members of Congress and in that sense it is also good for Puerto Rico,” said Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi (D-P.R.), who supports the bill that would add a representational vote in the House for D.C. residents. “To me it is amazing that in the 21st century the U.S. Congress keeps ignoring the wishes of the people of Puerto Rico in terms of their voting rights and their current relationship with the U.S., ” he said. As a freshman, one of Pierluisi’s priorities is to pass a referendum in Congress that would ask residents of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory of more than 4 million people, whether they prefer their current status of having no representational vote in Congress or would prefer something else. If Puerto Ricans voted for the latter it could mean a move toward independence or statehood, which would provide them with up to seven representatives and two senators in Congress. Such a referendum has been proposed in recent years by numerous lawmakers, such as Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), but it has failed to make it out of committee. “Congress has never even asked the people of Puerto Rico whether they like the status that they’ve got,” said Pierluisi. “So the situation is even worse (than D.C.). You’re not talking about the lack of one vote in the House, you’re talking about the lack of interest on the part of the Congress to even ask the people to check the temperature in the territory.” Opponents of the referendum have claimed in the past that the measure posses the question to Puerto Ricans with a bias towards statehood status. Pierluisi, though in favor of statehood, says he is more concerned with having his district’s voice be heard than with the outcome of the referendum. “I’m a statehooder, but all I want really is democracy, for the residents of Puerto Rico to be heard,” he said. “The District residents have been heard -- they have been ignored, but they have been heard.” The D.C. Voting Rights Act for the first time in more than 30 years came before and passed the Senate last week. But it has since stalled in the House due to Democrats’ disapproval of a Senate amendment that would loosen D.C.’s gun laws. The District is in the process of rewriting its gun regulations after the Supreme Court last year ruled that its gun ban was unconstitutional. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), an advocate for the D.C. voting bill, said that the measure would be postponed for a House vote. Serrano, who sponsored a 2007 bill that would have posed a referendum question to Puerto Rico residents, is looking beyond the D.C. measure’s hiccup in the House and is hopeful of what its passage means for Puerto Rico residents. “I think once we’ve moved the D.C. bill, and you pass it and sign it into law, whether you think they’re related subjects or not, then the question is begged, how about the rest of Americans who are disenfranchised?” said Serrano, who was born in Puerto Rico. Pierluisi said he’s been consulting with Serrano about how to approach the introduction of another referendum measure. And now with President Obama’s election and a stronger Democratic majority, he is confident the measure will be heard. “President Obama has promised to deal with the status of Puerto Rico and do everything within his power to solve the status problem of Puerto Rico within the next four years,” said Pierluisi, who co- chaired Obama’s campaign in Puerto Rico. In addition to Puerto Rico, the U.S. territories of Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have a delegate in Congress but lack a vote on the House floor. “The first time I was sitting on the House floor and I could not vote I was incensed and I turned to Congressman Serrano and I said I cannot believe this is happening,” said Pierluisi. “And to see my name on the board and the 4 million citizens that don’t even have one representative voting for them, to me is amazing.” He expects the bill for the referendum to be filed before the summer and is meeting with the House leadership to work out the appropriate details to guard against possible opposition. “I want to make sure that we avoid even giving the appearance that the bill is intended to favor statehood or any other option,” he said. “I’m not there yet.”